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SPQR — Where the Chef Has His Hands in Just About Everything

Tuesday, 25. September 2012 5:25

Veal tongue that tastes like your favorite pastrami -- at SPQR.

At San Francisco’s SPQR, Executive Chef Matthew Accarrino is known for his extraordinary, house-made pastas.

But what about the lovely desserts there? Yeah, he makes those, too.

And the whimsical torched marshmallows and molded chocolates with runny caramel centers accented by a plethora of different sea salts that arrive at the end of the meal? Yup, those also are his handiwork.

Not to mention, he and owner Shelly Lindgren just came out with their new “SPQR: Modern Italian Food and Wine” cookbook (Ten Speed Press).

It makes you wonder not only if this Matt-of-all-trades ever sleeps, but how he manages to do all of this in a kitchen that is smaller than a starlet’s walk-in-closet.

Three years ago, when he first took over the helm at this San Francisco restaurant, whose name is an acronym for Senatus Populesque Romanus or “The Senate and People of Rome,” his food was quite good. Now, it’s a revelation, as evidenced by a recent dinner my husband and I splurged on there.

It’s rustic-refined. It’s all bold flavors and great ingredients fashioned with real finesse by this chef who has cooked with the likes of Chefs Charlie Palmer, Todd English, Rick Moonen, Tom Colicchio and Thomas Keller.

At this always-crowded, long, narrow restaurant, menu prices are moderate, with appetizers running $12-$19, pastas $18-$20, and mains about $28. Accarrino volunteered to just cook for my husband and I, fashioning a personalized tasting menu of a multitude of dishes off the regular menu but in smaller portions.

Strawberry-tomato gazpacho with fried bread and dehydrated strawberries.

It began with an amuse of creamy tomato-strawberry gazpacho garnished with dehydrated strawberries that added a crisp-chewy texture.

I can never resist Hawaiian Kona Kampachi, an oil-rich, silky fish served crudo-style — its raw slices accented with creamy avocado, crunchy sea beans and clever “caviar” fashioned from summery cantaloupe juice.

Kona Kampachi crudo with cantaloupe "caviar.''

Seared albacore with the brightness of capers and citrus.

Albacore was served barely cooked, its meaty texture playing off the softness of eggplant. Golden raisins and capers added big bursts of Italian flavor.

Next, the supremely clever and absolutely fabulous veal tongue pastrami with onion jam and caraway. The tongue, sliced thinly, had all the peppery taste of pastrami, but a silkier texture from the veal.

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